The pulp magazine Weird Tales began publishing in 1923, and is still publishing, albeit sporadically, to this day. Unquestionably, Weird Tales’ glory years stretched from the late ’20s to the late ’30s. In 1928, H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos first saw the light of day with the publication of “Call of Cthulhu” in the pages of Weird Tales; Lovecraft was a regular through his death in 1937 and beyond thanks to a trove of unpublished work. Robert E. Howard published Conan stories in Weird Tales during the same period (and committed suicide the year before Lovecraft died).
In addition to the imaginative stories that entertained fantasy and horror fans, there were the covers, which cemented its reputation as much as any writer. Weird Tales cover art was a gateway to the storytelling — conspicuously weird, often seductive covers enticing the reader to shell out a few coins for some (hopefully quite) weird tales.
The top dog of Weird Tales cover artists was, interestingly for the time, a woman: Margaret Brundage. Her tense scenes of suspense defined the Weird Tales look. She famously included nude or nearly-nude women on many of her covers (it was editorial policy to have a certain number of nude scenes in the issue’s stories); Brundage’s damsels were often in immediate physical distress or under the influence of a mysterious entity. Skulls, statues, and violent hooded villains were common.
Brundage wasn’t the only artist contributing Weird Tales covers, although she did enjoy a run of consecutive covers from mid-’33 to mid-’36. In contrast to Brundage’s tableaux, J.Allen St. John (who also designed the iconic logo) painted covers full of action. Hannes Bok brought weirdness, as did Matt Fox. Weird Tales became the first magazine to publish Virgil Finlay, arguably the best pulp artist of all time, in 1935, and he soon became a regular cover artist as well.
The Weird Tales cover was, in a way, the Heavy Metal cover of its day, promising eerie, otherworldly adventures and chills, with plenty of sex appeal. Take a look at these 20 classic examples:
Thanks to Heritage Auctions for most of the scans shown here.
For more on Margaret Brundage, check out the recent book from Vanguard publishing The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art.